If you've read the news lately, you might have seen quite a bit of information concerning changes to the bail bonds system in Texas.
Texas isn't alone in it's changes, California and other states have recently made drastic changes to the way criminals get out of jail after being arrested.
If you aren't familiar with the way bail bonds work here is a short synopsis or you can read more about here or here.
How Bail Bonds Work in Texas
- The arrest - Individual is arrested by a member of law enforcement
- The Booking - Individual is booked, fingerprinted and put into the county jail system and at this point is usually allowed to contact a family member or friend to let them know they have become incarcerated
- The Bond setting - A county judge reviews the arrest and the charge and decides on whether to offer a bond to let the person out of jail or to revoke the bail bond opportunity and keep the incarcerated individual in jail until their set court date. This process allows for much leverage and individual judge discretion. The judge can arbitrarily choose to set a bond, revoke bond privileges, or release the individual on their own personal recognizance (also known as a PR bond).
- Getting a bond - Once the bail amount has been set, individuals have the opportunity to pay the bail amount to the court or get a bond from an approved bail bonding service. Most bail bond companies are backed by larger insurance companies. The reason for this is, incarcerated individuals can acquire a bail bond for about 10% of their bail amount - meaning if the bail amount was $100,000, the individual could get out of jail for around $10,000. The Bail Bonding company then becomes responsible for the full amount of the bail if the individual doesn't show up for their scheduled court appearacne
- Getting Released - Once a bond has been posted, the individual can be released from the county jail
- Checking In with Bail bondsman - Once an individual has been released from jail, they can proceed with their normal lives per any restrictions set forth by the court or bail bondsman. Most restrictions are usually limited to the distance the individual may travel from the county jail and they must check in regularly with their bail bondsman. If all restrictions aren't met, a bail bondsman could require the co signer to surrender collateral or be liable for the full amount of the bond, plus court costs and other fees (Not to mention the hiring of a bounty hunter)
- Court appearances - At the bond hearing the judge will usually set a court date, when the individual is required to show back up to court. If the individual doesn't show up for court, the bond becomes liable and the bondsman must send someone to find and return the person back to jail.
The Problem with the Bail Bonds System in Texas
The Bonding system in Texas is inherently flawed. It was designed to allow judges to set bail amounts based on severity of the criminal charges and the perceived threat the incarcerated individual is to society. While that sounds good in practice, it doesn't work that well. Many times, if someone is arrested and they can't get out of jail, they can lose their means of employment and other serious personal issues. If someone can't afford to get out of jail, once released, the easiest way to stay afloat in their lives can be to return to their old bad habits - as a means of provision, habit or coping with their problems.
This is different for every individual case, not only because there are many different crimes, each bond amount can be different, depending on the judge's decision. There have been cases where the same crime yields two completely and drastically different bond amounts just because the judge chose that way. And here lies the real unfair part of the bail bonds process in Texas.
An Overreaction Solution to The Bail Bonds System in Texas
Rather than take the approach of a practical solution to solve the issues in the bonding system, there are lawsuits that have been filed and upheld that support the release of all criminals within 24hrs of arrest on their own recognizance, assuming the criminal will return to jail when they are supposed to. One of these lawsuits claims bail bonds are unconstitutional because they aren't affordable for poor people. This solution is far worse than the alternative of keeping the system as is. For one, presuming criminals will return to jail just because you tell them to is absurd. Other states that have instituted this approach quickly learned this hard truth, but are having a hard time re-instituting bail bonds, due to the complications of passing it through state legislature. Secondly, releasing criminals on PR bonds or really low bonds puts the public at risk. Take the recent example of a gentleman who was released on a low bond, who shouldn't have been, and killed a police officer. The judge who set his bail at $15,500 (he probably paid $1,500 to get out of jail) wasn't aware of the murderer's previous convictions.
Governor Abbott is proposing a reform to the bail status by requiring criminals with serious offenses have their bail amounts set by judges higher up on the totem pole. Governor Abbott's plan was put on hold because he was asked to perform a feasibility study. Those in favor of PR bonds recently advocated for Texas to change to a "risk assessment system," essentially determining a person's bail on the perceived likelihood they would return to jail. All of this was predicated by a lawsuit in Harris County pushing for all misdemeanors crimes to qualify for PR bonds. The lawsuit was upheld in a higher court and is currently in legal battle. Because of the ruling, many judges outside Harris County have already begun to lower bail amounts and issue more PR bonds.
What are the Likely Outcome of Removing Bail Bonds in Texas?
- Bail Bonding companies would be forced out of business.
- There would be more criminals on the street with little to no consequences for missing their court hearings.
- County law enforcement would have to dramatically increase their bounty hunting. Law enforcement would have to pick and choose who they chase after to re arrest.
- Fewer case outcomes in the justice system. - With fewer people showing up for court, the time to solve court cases would lower in number and lengthen in time.
- County taxes and State taxes could increase - In order to support the bounty hunting effort, counties and the state budgets would be more burdened with the high costs of enforcing justice.
There's a Much Simpler Solution to The Bail Bonding System in Texas
Rather than just remove bonds altogether, why not correct the flaw in the system? Admittedly, there are bad bail bondsmen and there are good bail bondsmen. That is true in every area of life. People shouldn't be given drastically different bail amounts for similar charges. But politics seems to get the better of our legislative and judicial bodies. Lawyers like to get a ruling and then tie up the ruling in courts for years. Meanwhile, the system isn't repaired, it's worse or gone altogether.
To fix the bail bonding system in Texas, The Texas Legislature should implement two things to determine bonding.
- First, the Texas Legislature should have a predetermined bail amount for each offense. That amount should not be negotiable or changeable. This would institute immediate fairness across all demographics, socioeconomic statuses, and geographics. Everyone would be treated fairly.
- Secondly, if a person has been convicted or arrested for another offense, there should be an automatic multiplier on each similar level of offense. For example, if a person was arrested on a felony charge, the first time they would be given a bail amount at the predetermined rate. There should be no statute of limitations. On a second arrest/conviction, if they are arrested on another same level offense, they should get the same bail amount plus a predetermined multiplied amount. Additionally, this should be repeated with an increased multiplier with each arrest/offense. There should also be a level of offense that automatically disqualifies a person from qualifying for a bond.
We all know that the best solutions seem to fall on deaf ears sometimes, as big pockets and political agendas often drive our legal system. But there must be someone to stand up and offer balanced solutions, rather than find a flaw and throw the baby out with the bath water.
We are a bail bonds company located in Fort Bend County in Richmond TX, Waller County in Hempstead TX, and Washington County in Brenham TX. We have been treating people fairly, honestly, in a fast and discreet manner for many years. Though we know change can be inevitable, we believe the bonding system can be changed for the better, and we hope that is the case here. If you ever need help with a bail bond, we are here to help.